Get this - New York police are on the verge of convincing the State that it should be illegal to stand on the pavement. Rediculous as it may sound, a case has actually gone to court there which will consider this question. See this from the New York Times blogroom. This, in a country that calls itself democratic. Are people so unreasonable in this country that they need laws and police to tell them when they are standing in the way? And what about the other people who had to go around them? Are they not able to say "excuse me, you are in the way"? Do you really need police involvement in a situation like this?
Earlier this year there was a story in the BBC of police in another US city (Atlanta) tackling a man for crossing the street. Now I begin to understand why it is that Americans often get so excited about how well they are treated when they go overseas - not only is it safe and convenient to walk on the street, but you are also treated as an adult. What a revelation! In Australia, Americans are amazed at buttons pedestrians can press which make the lights change and stop the cars so they can cross the street. I found this humourous because Japanese people visiting Australia often get very frustrated with the fact that the pedestrian lights will be red until you press the button so you generally have to wait one and a half cycles of the auto lights anyway, whereas in Japan pedestrian lights will generally change regularly and in sync with slower traffic so you get a comparatively clear run (or I should say walk) - and that is only on the main roads. Back streets generally don't have lights at all.
The very word "sidewalk" shows how Americans now treat pedestrian traffic as auxiliary to the motor vehicle. In the UK, telling a person that they could not stand on the pavement would be akin to violating the constitution - the commons are for all to be shared. Lose that and you no longer live in a democracy. In Japan also, shops and restaurants flow directly onto the streets, where pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and motorists share the road quite happily.
I begin to understand also why Japanese people are often so shocked about "violence" in North American, Australia and other Western nations. It is not so much a fear of being mugged or raped, but a general impression of how (un)safe it is to walk down the street in these cities.